You can tell we’re in the run up to Christmas as shops are becoming cluttered with stocking fillers. It’s anti-mockingbird out on the high street. One of last year’s seasonal novelty books was A Wayne In A Manger by Gervase Phinn. Overall I wasn’t impressed. But there was a great moment near the end of this miniature title, describing part of a school nativity play:
‘I am the King of the North,’ said one little boy, kneeling before the manger and laying down a brightly wrapped box. ‘I bring you gold.’
‘I am the King of the South,’ said the second, kneeling before the manger and laying down a large coloured jar. ‘I bring you myrrh.’
‘I am the King of the East,’ said the third and smallest child, kneeling before the manger and laying down a silver bowl. ‘And Frank sent this.’
The quick-witted amongst you will realise that I’m a bit early with a post about Epiphany – given that it happens well after Advent. But we’ll overlook that for now in case the blog doesn’t continue past December 25!
Although “and Frank sent this” is the poor punch line of a child’s joke (or a dodgy playwright’s sense of humour), there’s quite a challenge to the Christian community in the story of the Wise Men.
You see, the Christ child wasn’t surrounded by Jewish dignitaries. Not even kept in the confines of a strictly Jewish community. Nor did his family or God prevent from being exposed to, or from influencing, Gentile culture – even as a young child.
No. Right in the early years of Jesus’ life, he was open to non-Jews. Outsiders. Astrologers. It’s a picture of Russell Grant and friends (perhaps more academic versions) coming to see Jesus. From over the hills and far away. And they brought gifts.
Surely it’s not a picture that Christians can ignore. Exclusivity doesn’t seem to be an option. If God didn’t allow his son to be closeted away and protected, then God hardly expects his people to be any different?
So as we journey towards Christmas and then move on to celebrating Epiphany (or Little Christmas), shouldn’t we generously accept everyone, trusting that like the Wise Men they will receive something of the wonder of Jesus as they visit, and not forgetting that we may benefit from their gifts and culture too.
As if I haven’t already kept you reading too long … a quick aside. When elders or ministers get ordained in the Presbyterian church, the ordination service always includes a phrase that always gives me hope. I heard it again on Monday night. It’s at the point when someone solemnly reads out the “standards of the church”.
In exercising the inalienable right of private judgement the Christian is not to set his reason above the Word of God, or to refuse light from any quarter.
That’s the phrase I used in my earlier post about a child noticing the City Hall lights being switched on. There isn’t always light to be found in every corner, so it’s not carte blanche to stop holding onto your beliefs or water them down. But it is a call to value openness and inclusivity above rejection of what hasn’t even been seen or understood.
Light from any quarter … let’s not refuse it when the door opens and it shines on our faces. Could be some more wise men from the east (of the Bann!)